This is the next installment of a series of interviews I will be doing with Michigan authors. We have a very interesting and diverse bunch of writers in this state who represent a wide swath of genre’s. For the first interview this month I would like to introduce you to Benjamin Andrus who is no stranger to the Journeys & Life blog.
“Ben, it’s been a long time since we talked…even in person and I just want you to know this deeply saddens me. Before we get started why don’t you take few lines and tell everyone what’s been going on in your life lately. I know you recently graduated from Grand Valley State University so how do you feel about that?”
“Mike I too am sad we haven’t had a chance to talk. I graduated from Grand Valley. I feel happy. But, once out in the real world, life hits hard. So I spent the whole summer and most of the winter finding a real job, one that pays enough for me to live. Now that search is over! I am pleased to say, now I have a career. (At least, a job that pays enough to support my writing!) Now I am looking forward to my wedding later this year!”
Me: Ben, you published The Moonless Night (Part 1 of the Veldorian Saga) in 2013 and the sequel Force of Nature last January (2015). How is the third installment of the series going and will this be the end of your first series.
Ben:“The third book is going well, considering. Because life is still necessary to live, I have not been putting the time into it I would have liked, however, it is still a good portion complete and should be released this year. It is the last book in the series chronologically, but I still have plans for a few of the main characters being in books of their own.”
Me: So how much time would you say that are devoting to writing this next book in a week?
Ben: “1500-2000 words per week on average. In a perfect world, I would be doing 1000 words a day, so it’s much slower than I would like.”
Me: Do you know the title will be? Any little Easter eggs you wanna share?
Ben: “As I have not come up with a title yet. I usually don’t, until the book is complete and then it punches me in the face. By way of a teaser, Aislinn and Lonessa will finally come face to face in this book!
Me: It’s about damn time!!
Me: Now that you are 2 books into your writing career what is the worst experience you have had with the industry as a whole and what is the best.
Ben: “The worst experience has to be with various vanity press outlets. I won’t name names, but when the author has to pay a substantial part of the publishing cost, the publisher becomes little more than a retail outlet we as authors have to navigate with little to know help. Once I cleared all the confusing propaganda and advertisements of the for-profit publishers, finding communities of authors on Facebook is a big help.”
Me: Feel free to name names friend. If anything you would be helping other “virgin authors” out by being blunt and open. So what’s the best experience?
Ben: Xlibris and Outskirts were the two worst to deal with. I still get phone calls from the former. The best experience was with Createspace. I know most of it was automated, but when I did need customer support, they were very helpful over the phone.
Me: Social media and using it right is a huge part of being a successful author today regardless of if you are Indie or Traditionally published. Why are you so bad it? Why are you so ambivalent about using it?
Ben: “Should never have said Facebook. I knew you would bring this up! Ha Ha. I read a lot of articles that are posted in a few of the groups we share, and I like hearing about other author’s experience, it helps the writing community as a whole. As for me, I am not good at social media, I haven’t updated my personal Facebook page in months…. I think my genes that help me understand computers started off sick, and now have completely atrophied. Most of the time, and I know this is horrible, I don’t even think about social media as a way to market my book, the concept is foreign to me.”
Me: Interesting. If you don’t think about social media as a way to market your books, then how do you market your books? One of the biggest ways to improve your sales and visibility is interacting with readers and other authors via the internet or in person. Understanding you are like a grandma on the internet; do you think you will improve on this?
Ben: “Hold on, my tea is ready, and have you seen my slippers? Honestly, though, these first novels are only the beginning, as I learn and grow with writing, I will eventually grow into learning the internet.”
Me: If you could do one thing better as an author what would it be.
Ben: “See above. No, but really, being an author is more about writing a clever story or putting pretty words together. It is about creating the world that you share with others, building a reality. In my books, I want to build that world and fully immerse the reader into it. Anytime I can improve that experience, put real emotion into real people, who are real to the reader, I work on it. In short, world building.”
Me: Ok world building. So, that means you are not happy with how things have gone so far. So, what are you going to do better from this point on and is there anything specifically you would change looking back with how you had done things.
Ben: “Not 100% happy with it no. There are so many moving parts to each book, and I feel like I ignore some of them. I know the world I create in my book isn’t as good as I want it to be, and I think that is a function of how much story content there is. With the third book, the world building is much better. Each chapter I write, I learn something new.”
Me: Was there anything useful you learned during your time at GVSU from their writing department? How would you say that creative writing degree has helped your writing if at all?
Ben: “I would like to thank my first two writing professors. They both helped me rekindle a passion for writing that laid dormant for years. And the best advice I got was “put your characters in space,” and that is what started my novel writing career. I did not receive any special training that seems different from a lot of the articles that are circulating. The main help was refocusing my drive to write, and the practice I got while writing. Neither of those things are exclusive to a university degree, but it was easier to get all the help I needed at university. Bottom line is, I’ve been saying it for years, “Writing is sacred. Practice it.” And you don’t need higher education to do that.”
Me: So do think that getting a Bachelors degree in creative writing was especially useful or helpful to you as an author? I know I found that a lot of the classes I had to take were of no specific help to me as a fictional novelist because of the writing departments focus on literary fiction and non-fiction and their tendency to look down on genre fiction? Personally, I was also annoyed with the lack of direction when it came to the process of writing a fictional story (thankfully I had other better sources for help). I know we both had a few professors who rekindled our passion or lit a fire under our butts. I was also rather shocked by the writings staffs general lack of knowledge about modern publishing and their overall dismissive attitude towards indie publishing. So what do you think about that?
Ben: “To be frank, the only good that came out of a GVSU specific degree was the practice, but I can practice without paying for college. The idea of a creative writing degree is a good one, but any attempt to intellectualize art is a fool’s errand. So most of the time the professors are assigning arbitrary grades to pieces written to fit a mold and not to tell a story. Don’t misunderstand me, like I said before there are some good professors out there that treat writing like an art and actually help, so it is really more about having good people to share your writing with than about a college degree. I agree with you about their general lack of any knowledge about indie publishing, and to their shame, were rather arrogant and dismissive about the whole industry. Universities need to be taken with a grain of salt. Most of those professors haven’t been outside of Allendale in decades. ”
Me: In plain speak, I feel the common advice from that writing department was, “Just keep honing your art (the way we tell you to) and sending out those pieces of writing to writing journals (that no one has ever heard of or pays attention to except academia) and wait for their approval that you are ready to be taken seriously as an author. Indie publishing isn’t a real thing”. Personally, I still wonder if my original major of Journalism would have been more advantageous Ben.
Me. If you could rank yourself on a scale from 1- 10 when it comes to how serious of a writer you are where would you be and why.
Ben: I’m not sure I like the philosophy behind this question. I am a writer, a bard, a storyteller. 10, maybe even 11. Now that number does not speak to my marketing savvy, we both know that! There are very few days that pass without me putting down 250-1000 words in a story her or there. I bounce from story to story with some regularity so finishing one work first is difficult. I work on three large projects at the same time and trash two of them… (well not trash just shelve for the moment) once I figure out the end to the other once.
Me: Ok let me rephrase that question, Ben. Some writers look at their writing like a hobby; they are trying it out and if it doesn’t work out then they move on to the next interest. Some look at it and treat it like the business it is now. Writing, all facets of it from writing to publishing and marketing are important for modern writers. So where do you think you would put yourself. I myself would put me at a 7 or 8 and that has to do with my family life and limited funds.
Ben: “Ah, I get it. I guess it is obvious I have a passion for writing! I would like to say 10, but in reality, it would be down around 5 over the past year. The Work-Life balance was thrown off a bit.”
Me: What’s one book you read lately (either fiction or nonfiction……hell why not one from each)
Ben: “You mean besides the Dungeon Master’s Guide 3.5? “Oryx and Crake” by Margret Atwood, her style (the way she puts the words she chooses into sentences) is so fun! And the story is interesting! I’m using the DMG3.5 for the non-fiction book!”
Me: I don’t even know what the hell that (DMG 3.5) is so I don’t know what else to say. I didn’t realize you are a Margret Atwood fan. Is that an interest picked up in college or were you always an Atwood fan. WAIT! What non-fiction book? Explain this.
Ben: “I started liking Atwood after being forced to read Blind Assassin for school. The Maddadam series is my favorite from her. The DMG 3.5 is the rule book for being the Dungeon Master for Dungeons and Dragons. I guess it doesn’t count for non-fiction, haha. I did finish Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” recently. He has beautiful descriptions of nature. It is a fun read.”
Me: I am sure you see a lot of the same writing advice I have that clutters our Facebook and Twitter feeds. What’s one or two pieces of bad or overused writing advice that just pisses you off as a novelist that you so a lot.
Ben: “I guess all of it. I don’t view writing the same way as most people. I’ve seen articles about the importance of editing. If you have to read an article to know having proper grammar is important, please stop writing. The industry of indie authors has a miasma of unprofessionalism already. Each self-published author that sends a book out with no editing and terrible proofreading hurts us all.”
Me: We’ve all read books that were supposed to be awesome and amazing and turned out to be huge piles of shit but are best sellers regardless. What is one book that you have read in the last few years or even recently that everyone said was great but after you read it— you hated. (this could be fiction or not. Choose one and no it can’t be mine lol).
Ben: “To Kill a Mockingbird” I bought it because of all the hype about a sequel and all that. Well, turns out, terrible book. I could barely stomach reading the first page. I have never encountered a work of fiction that read like the ingredients list on a box of generic cheerios before. I can’t say that now.”
Me: “Are fucking kidding me lol. Ok, you have to explain this one more since TKAM is one of the most loved books in American fiction history. We took the same lit classes in college so dissect it a little? Why do you think TKAM was such a big hit?”
Ben: I’m not taking away from the quality of the book itself. Sure a lot of people liked it, it spoke to a generation, blah blah blah. Not my generation, I didn’t like it. And let me tell you why. I have never broken my arm, but my thumb is still parallel to my thigh, my hands face backwards, and is she talking about THE Battle of Hastings? WTF? Wasn’t that 1066, I don’t get it. Her sentences are simple and unexciting, and I will have no part in it. It was, at one time, the great American novel, but it is not anymore.
Me: What’s your most recent writing jam?
Ben: The most recent jam is this question. Most of my jams come when I write part of the story that takes characters away from what I originally intended. I then have to make a choice, either scrape what I got, or change the story, and it’s difficult. This third book has been particularly tricky with that aspect.
Me: Ok I actually really like that answer a lot but by “Jam” I was referring to the somewhat old-fashioned urban reference to music.
Ben: Music, I’ve heard of this. I have two ‘jams’ at the moment. Viking death metal for writing in the Veldorian Saga, and an eclectic blend of Pitch Perfect, Russian pop, and O Brother Where art Thou for writing anything else.
Me: I’ll assume you have learned a lot of things about your own personal writing habits and abilities these last few years. What is the one thing you have found that works that you would want to share with other up and coming writers. (think helpful hints).
Ben: Writing is sacred. Practice it. In order to practice writing the correct way, and the way that most benefits the author, is to write EVERY DAY. It keeps the story fresh in your mind, keeps the fingers loose, and develops a way of thinking that lends itself to writing. But equally as important, share it with others. No one ever wrote anything down that was intended for only one person to read. EVER. It is, by its very nature, a social activity, and needs to be done socially. Share it, critique it, edit it, practice it. I may also have a degree in philosophy.
Me: Obviously you never had a private journal then? Or do you think subconsciously people with journals actually WANT others to read them? But really this is where you and I differ because I follow the belief that writing every day doesn’t necessarily help a writer or author become better. By doing that they just follow a pattern of learned and programmed behavior without taking the time to reflect on their writing, life, and the world. I think breaks are needed and required. But let’s be real that advice is everywhere and overused, “Writers read, Writers write every day”. So common Ben give me something unique!!
Ben: I journal all the time! And you’re right, writing every day for the sake of writing is not the best. I guess I mean, write every day, but also practice it. Find story starters or different aspects of stories and try to work them into your writing. One of my professors had a wheel with several elements of a story on it, such as First person POV, non-linear timeline, non-human main character. We would spin the wheel and have to write a short story using this story device. It was challenging and helped me grow as a writer. So practice writing, don’t just write.
Me: I did not have that professor and wish I would have *grumbling*
Me: There are people out there who sell fake book reviews (and by this I mean they sell reviews). It’s been big news lately because of sites like Fiverr. What do think of people who charge authors fees for writing reviews for books they have never read? What do you think of authors who pay for reviews like this?
Ben: This is the first I’m hearing of it. (Proves I don’t know the internet, right?) I think it is disgusting. Authors create the story. Critics keep authors honest. If there were no critics, authors would be shoving their individual propaganda down our throats with little to no regard to grammar or readability. (Wouldn’t it be nice to write without fear of the review?) When an author pays for a review, they break that sacred trust the public has in the system. If this continues, it could destroy storytelling on a massive scale. It is dishonest, and if there is proof any author does this, boycott their books, kick them out of the community. No author worth their salt would pay for a fraudulent review. Far better it is to receive 3 earned than 5 purchased.
Me: I totally agree with you about that “trust”. But yeah it’s quite a big deal and it is just part of the business you haven’t fully immersed yourself in yet (but I know you will). In fact, Amazon.com recently filed lawsuits against thousands of users of the website Fiverr for doing this. Amazon is cracking down on fake reviews a lot and has been removing them from book sales pages. That being said, though, reviews sell books. So what do you as an author think you can do better in order to get honest reviews since in this day and age we live or die by reviews?
Ben: There you have me. At the current time, I do not know. By the end of this year, I will have a different answer for you.
Me: How does your fiance deal with all the time you spend writing? Between her school, your work and your writing do you find it hard to balance everything so your time is split fairly? Some writers are so writing focused that their writing overtakes their personal life. I know I have a hard time finding a good balance?
Ben: “For most of my time spent writing, she is in the room working on something of her own. It helps me to bounce ideas off her, and we converse a little while I write. It works out well.”
Ok Ben, so you have two novels out now and let’s be real you are struggling a bit in author visibility. I read both your books and they are wonderful examples of what’s good in the frenzy that is the fantasy genre. Since this interview has the potential to reach millions of people through my awesome friends on social media you have THREE sentences to give them compelling reasons why they should pick up your books.
“George R. R. Martin redefined, at least, some small portion of, the fantasy genre; my books play off that new definition to bring the reader an honest look into the lives of the people of Veldoria. It is a truly thought out world complete with its own history, mythology, and even the vestiges of old religions. The thoughts and actions of my characters are grounded in years of formal philosophical training, and they will befriend or bedevil you, hopefully at the very least, give you something to ponder as their reactions to life are similar to our own.”
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Bens Blog: https://benjaminjandrus.wordpress.com/
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